Study of the Day: School Contracts Boost Grades, Student Satisfaction

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New research suggests that a traditional points system may not be the best way to measure learning progress and encourage engagement.

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PROBLEM: Schools have traditionally relied on grades to push students to learn and to monitor their progress. Can contracts, which have become indispensable in the modern workplace, do a better job?

METHODOLOGY: Researchers Dana Lindemann and Colin Harbke assigned 40 college freshmen in an introductory psychology course to a traditional or contract grading system. Those who were part of the experimental group signed a contract at the beginning of the semester in which they indicated what grade they were aiming to receive and specified which assignments they would complete for it. To pass, each of them had to master at least 85 percent of the lessons.

RESULTS: Though the teacher and course materials were identical for both groups, the group of students who were under contract were three times more likely to earn an A. They also consistently rated their own effort, their instructor, and the course more favorably; and perceived a higher degree of control over their grade.

CONCLUSION: Classes that allow students to design their own course based on a contract lead to both higher grades and higher student satisfaction than traditional points-based setups. The authors explain in a statement that this may be because "emphasis is placed on mastery of the material, as opposed to gaining a partial understanding."

SOURCE: The full study, "Use of Contract Grading to Improve Grades among College Freshmen in Introductory Psychology" (PDF), is published in the journal SAGE Open.

Image: l i g h t p o e t/Shutterstock.

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Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

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